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Tom Phelan


Lecturer in Communication (2015-17)

Presented by Rob Hopkins, associate professor of music

Tom Phelan passed away suddenly on January 17, 2017. He is survived by his wife, Professor of Communication Catherine Phelan; his son Andrew; four grandchildren; a brother; and two sisters. Tom was a visiting and an adjunct instructor in communication at Hamilton the last few years. He also was an evaluator for the annual drills led by the Hamilton Emergency Response Team, and was a tutor for the HEOP program at Hamilton.

Tom earned his bachelor’s degree from The State University College at New Paltz, his master’s from SUNY Albany, a Professional Certificate in Education from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Education degree from Syracuse University.

Tom’s wide-ranging career included employment as an English teacher, a director of adult education, a school principal, assistant superintendent, a consultant, an adjunct and visiting and associate professor, an instructor of public- and corporate-based training, a career development specialist, an emergency planning manager, and a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) instructional designer. Tom was, first and foremost, an educator.

He was devoted to public service. Tom was very active internationally as a presenter on many topics, often relating to emergency management, in locations ranging from The Stone Church in Clinton to Christchurch (the city) in New Zealand. His expertise encompassed emergency management and response training; disaster recovery planning; program design and evaluation; leadership and administration; budget preparation and management; and writing, teaching, and training. Recently he was conducting research on literacy as it applied to the skills required of emergency managers in crafting their messages for the literacy levels of their intended audiences. Two publications by Tom are coming out this spring, one on the aforementioned literacy project and the other a case study on crisis response and communication. In addition, Tom was an expert in distance learning, and his recent work included an affiliation with Royal Roads University in British Columbia. He had also worked recently with Utica College to assist in the development of a crisis management team there.

Tom’s service was recognized often throughout his career. Secretary Tom Ridge cited Tom as a Founding Member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Among his many other professional honors, Tom was given the New York State Senate Liberty Award in 2002 for service at Ground Zero in New York City.

His book Emergency Management and Tactical Response Operations: Bridging the Gap was published in 2008. George Haddow reviewed the book and said: “Tom Phelan has built a solid case for how future generations of emergency managers can bridge this education gap based on case studies and real-world experience. This book is a must-read for all students hoping to build a career in emergency management.”

So far my account has focused on Tom’s life as an educator, but you could know all that and have no real understanding of Tom, the man. If you knew Tom well, you would know that he was a singer during much of his adult life. If you knew him at all, you’d know that he was a witty, thoughtful, outgoing, generous, and kind man. Anyone who attended his memorial service in the chapel could not help but be deeply moved by the testimonials, in particular those given by his students, who seemed to love to talk about him. And if his students only knew how much he loved to talk about them! He often shared stories of the successes of his students, of whom he was so proud, and to whom he was so dedicated.

To know Tom was to be inspired—inspired by his joy of teaching and of life, and by his commitment to others. He lives on in the many lives that he touched.

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